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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Breaking the Silence

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves....."
                      (Proverbs 31:8)

Sabah was only 12 years old when she heard about the first honor killing. A young Muslim girl had became pregnant and when her family found out, they were outraged. Her selfish act had brought shame to the family and the community. In retaliation, the mother tied her hands behind her back and sat on her chest, while her brother strangled her to death!
After reading this horrifying account, Sabah was shocked, "What is going on? This is not Islam! My religion is a religion of peace!"
 A few years later in 2004, Sabah was exposed to another honor killing, only this one hit way too close to home. She learned that the elder brother of one of her good friends had been murdered.
 Unable to keep silent, Sabah stopped researching and began speaking out!
I first met Sabah on Twitter and since then we have become good friends. I invited her to be a guest on my radio program, "The Cross in the Desert." when I learned she was doing a screening of the powerful documentary film "Honor Diaries."
Sabah is a British Muslim with a Pakistani background. Several years ago she came to the United States and is currently a student at a University studying Biology.
Yet Sabah is much more than just a student pursuing a degree at a University. She is a very open-minded, outspoken and courageous Muslim woman who is unafraid to "break the silence."
 When Sabah discovered other Muslim women were speaking out against honor killings and injustices committed against women in the "Honor Diaries," film, she realized that she had an obligation, a duty, to bring awareness to her own community.
While most non-Muslim students were shocked by the film, The Muslim community was not, instead they were outraged and offended. Sabah was called a "devil, an infidel" and was warned that showing this film could even cost her, her life!
Sabah confessed to me on my radio program that her emotions have been like a pendulum swing, "Did I do the right thing? Should I really be doing this?" The criticism and death threats have resulted in a great emotional toll on Sabah. At times she has felt lonely and depressed and wondered if she should continue. Yet despite the difficult challenges, Sabah has vowed to continue:

"I must speak up when I see injustices! I can't save the world, but maybe I can be like a ripple in the ocean. I will tell one person and they in turn will tell someone else...

Bringing awareness and education is the passion of Sabah's life. She is committed to making a difference in the lives of abused women in Muslim majority countries. Yet the challenges she faces is not limited to just the Muslim community. Sabah faces great challenges from her immediate family. While her father doesn't know about her activism, her mother does and is worried about her safety. In addition to that stress, Sabah had to hide her screening activities from her brother, since he goes to the same university that she does! 

During our interview, I asked Sabah how she felt about ISIS and she immediately denounced them as "monsters" and not Muslims.

"I wish the ground would swallow up these monsters and take them down to the lowest hell!"

One of the biggest challenges that Sabah faces is the ongoing stereotypes about Muslims that is largely created by the media. She hates the stereotype that "All Muslims are terrorists" and is saddened by the suggestion that her religion is guilty of oppressing women!

"True Muslims would not oppress women. They cannot do that because our Prophet Muhammad taught that we should treat women and children like petals of a flower...."

I have nothing but admiration and respect for Sabah. She is one of the most courageous Muslim women that I have ever met! Despite the numerous threats and the fear of her brother finding out, Sabah courageously continues her battle for the rights of abused Muslim women. For Sabah, "real Islam" is a peaceful religion. "There is no compulsion in religion, "Sabah proclaims, quoting from the Quran.

At the risk of her life, Sabah will continue to speak out and be that "ripple" in the ocean bringing education and awareness to everyone who is willing to listen. What Sabah is doing is taught by the Bible. To her Muslim community, she is bringing fear and shame, but to the God of the Bible, she is bringing honor and glory through her activism.
Proverbs 31:9 instructs us to, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless and see that they get justice!"
My prayer is that there will be more "Sabah's" who will speak up and not be silenced by fear. Sabah has broken the silence and as a result many lives will be saved by her courage and commitment!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

" I Stand with Israel."

"I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt.
 All the families on the earth will be blessed through you."
                         (Genesis 12:3)

One of the most remarkable privileges God has blessed me with on Facebook is linking me with dear friends! For the past three years, God has given me wonderful friendships with Iranians. I have had the privilege to be their voice on my blog and share stories of their struggles for freedom. We have laughed together, cried together and even prayed together. My friendships with Iranians are the most precious friendships to me in the world.
However recently, the violent conflict between Hamas and Israel has put a real strain on our friendships. Even though my Iranian friends despise and hate their government, the many years of propaganda by the Regime has left a lasting impression on their thinking. They see Israel as an aggressive entity and view them as the enemy of the Middle East. Therefore when they see that I'm standing with Israel on my Facebook page, they are outraged and want to know why I am siding with a nation that commits terrorist acts!
With gentleness and respect, I pointed out to my Iranian friends that Hamas is using the Palestinians as human shields and that Israel is not purposely targeting innocent civilians. Yet in all of my persuasion, my Iranian friends still don't understand that the media is manipulating the violence in the Gaza Strip and using it to deceive the world. However, in the midst of my frustration and despair, God once again has blessed me with a wonderful friendship that is making a difference in my difficult situation!
To this day, I still can't remember exactly how I met Shaily, but I am so grateful that I did.
I saw her name linked to a comment on a post and I noticed she was from Jerusalem, so I decided to friend request her. Within a few days Shaily responded to my friend request and immediately cautioned me by saying, " I am Israeli IDF," meaning she was a member of Israeli Defense Forces."
"That's not a problem, " I enthusiastically replied, "I am a big supporter of Israel!"
 Without hesitation she accepted my friend request.
 Shaily Azulay is my first Jewish friend on Facebook and her friendship came at a crucial time.
 When you come to Shaily's page, you are immediately educated. She has postings and videos responding to the cruel and hateful anti-semitism that is alive in the world!

Her timeline picture is a postcard drawing of missiles and homes with the caption declaring that, "Israel uses weapons to protect its civilians, Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons!"
Further down the page is a video Shaily produced showing the hateful and violent threats made by Hamas and how Israel is fighting courageously to protect their homeland!
As I scrolled further down her page, I arrived at a video posting that touched my heart!
It was a video produced two years ago featuring young Jewish citizens from all walks of life, holding up posters colored in green and red, declaring, "Iranians, we will never bomb your country, We love you."
 The short two minute video pleads with Iranians and reassures them that, "We don't hate you, We love you, we want to meet you someday..."
I watched this video with tears in my eyes and I realized what a "God send," Shaily was! Here was a video from the hearts of the Jewish people saying to Iranians, "We love you."
WOW! A message of peace and love, rather than hatred and hostility. A message that could heal the deep wounds and scars and break down the many barriers created from years of propaganda.
Shaily has created a beautiful Facebook page, a page that both educates and reassures Iranians that Israel does not hate them! With all of the misinformation and anti-semitism created by the media, Shaily has responded with a message of peace that shows the true heart of the Jewish people. Israel is a beautiful and historical nation that is fighting for its survival against hostile terrorists. They are the last hope for freedom and democracy in the middle east!
I immediately knew that I had to share this beautiful video with my Iranian friends. Like me, Shaily has a heart for the Iranian people. She has a heart for peace and understanding and in a climate of hatred, she responds with a message of love.
I have posted her video on my page with the sincere prayer that my Iranian friends will see the true heart of the Jewish people.
I also have had the privilege of sharing the books that I wrote about the Holocaust with Shaily, "The Promise and Beauty from the ashes,"
Please join me in standing with Israel at this critical time in her history. God has promised to bless those who stand with her, but also warns against those who show contempt for His chosen people.

    "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt!"

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Please don't hang my daddy!"

"You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"

    ( Iranian trail Judge Moghisseh)

 Children are gifted with amazing creative abilities to draw pictures of the things in life that bring them great joy. They draw pictures of beautiful rainbows, picnics in the park with mommy and daddy, their favorite pets, and the list goes on....but rarely does one see a picture that depicts sadness, suffering and death.....
One such rare exception was a drawing by four year-old Mohanna Ahmadi. Mohanna didn't draw the usual picture that four year-olds commonly draw..she didn't draw a picture of her dog and cat or a picture of playing with her best friend, or a bright colored picture of the sun shining..instead she drew a picture of her father being hanged!
Mohanna drew a picture of her standing next to her mother, holding hands and watching her father being hanged in Iran.
When I gazed upon this heartbreaking drawing, I was driven to tears!
 Mohanna, an innocent four year-old child, was doing her best to understand the cruel and suffering world all around her. She picked up a crayon and said to the world, "Please don't let them hang my daddy!"
The heart of their precious four year-old was desperately crying out to you and me over the internet and pleading with the government not to hang her father.
 Hamed Ahmadi was one among three other Sunni Muslims, on death row for the alleged crime of murdering a pro-government Sunni cleric.
Ironically the murder of the cleric did not take place until long after the four were arrested and so the Iranian regime dropped the original charges and instead tried them on charges of  Moharebeh (enmity with God) and acting against national security by supporting opposition Kurdish parties.
However when one understands the contentious history between the Sunnis and Shias, then it becomes obvious the real reason these four Sunnis are on death row is because of their religious orientation.
Soon after the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D., there arose a dispute of who would be his successor. 
The Shia party declared that Mohammed had appointed Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, to be the rightful successor. The Sunni's disputed this claim and that's when the contentious wars began.
During the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. Ali's son, Hussein was killed and this further deepened the division between Shia's and Sunni's.
The Sunnis, the largest majority group of Islam, reject the teachings of the Shiites because they venerate the Imams and look to them for spiritual guidance. Sunnis consider this as blasphemous and idolatrous and reject any religious association with them.
After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the remaining Sunni population suffered intense discrimination in employment and were prohibited from broadcasting and expressing their opinions. Thus, began the long and bitter history of discrimination against Sunni Muslims in Iran.

After their trial, Iranian judge Moghisseh warned The four Sunnis to be quiet and declared, "You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"
He warned them to be quiet and ordered them to quickly leave the courtroom.
Intelligence agents began threatening their families and cautioned them to remain silent or else face dire consequences.
Gazing upon this innocent, beautiful and yet sad drawing by Mohanna, I felt so broken inside. I quickly consulted with my dear friend Shadi Paveh, a powerful Iranian human rights activist and together we began speaking out for the four Sunnis and sending out numerous petitions for people to sign. Shadi was a guest on my "Cross in the Deseret," radio program and we talked about the dire situation of the four Sunni prisoners, pleading with people on Facebook to sign the petition.

We spoke out and prayed and waited.......

Two weeks ago, while I was at work at the bookstore, my friend Shadi greeted me with some incredible news!! She shared a post that the Four Sunni prisoners, who had been on a hunger strike, had been taken off of death row and returned to their normal prison cells!
I was overjoyed beyond words. I quickly excused myself and ran into the back stockroom at the bookstore and cried for joy!
Our praying and petitioning had been heard!
I believe with all of my heart that four year-old Mohnna's drawing had touched the heart of our compassionate God! I tried to visualize and imagine how she was feeling at that moment..I thought, Mohanna, you can make another can draw a new picture of your father without a noose around his neck!
Although Hamed Ahmadi is still not free, he is still a prisoner of Iran, he is at least still alive..Mohanna still has a daddy..and my prayer is that one day, she can draw a new picture of holding hands with her father once again..only this time its a picture of him free, alive and out of prison!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Stories of Stealthy Freedom."

"If the meat was covered, then the cats wouldn't roam around it!"
 Taj El-Din Hilaly (Muslim Cleric)

"I cannot accept that my hair can make men sin and lose their faith
 unless they have a sick heart.......
  (Iranian stealthy freedom woman)

March 7, 1979: The new leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini decrees that it is mandatory for the woman to wear the hijab. (veil)
One day later on International Women's day, thousands of Iranian women take to the streets of Tehran launching a massive protest against the wearing of the hijab!
Now exactly 35 years later, a new silent protest has begun called ,"My Stealthy freedom," that is a little more obscure and yet it is having profound effects on young Iranian women who are rebelling once again against the mandatory Hijab Law.
Iranian Journalist, Masih Alinejad, who lives in the UK, was overwhelmed at the response she received when she asked Iranian women about their desires to be without the veil.
The Stealthy Freedom Facebook page was bombarded with over 500,000 hits in five weeks, including pictures and stories of women without their veils.
The word, stealthy, is used to describe the new revolution, because of the danger and risk to women who participate in it. If they are caught they can be lashed, fined and imprisoned for disobeying the mandatory law. Therefore in order to avoid the harsh consequences they must "secretly" remove their veils.
For some, removing the veil is a frightening and difficult choice. One Iranian woman, who posted her picture of being hijabless and standing in front of the Azadi Towers in Tehran, described her journey to removing her veil as a scary event.
 "Whenever I saw revolving lights or people dressed in uniforms, I would think it was the police and begin to shake with fear!"
 Eventually she gained more courage and decided not to let what people think or say bother her anymore. She began to ride her bicycle without the veil and ignored the judgmental stares given by women dressed in chadors.
The history of the Hijab is important to the context of understanding why Iran imposes this mandatory law.
On January 8, 1936, The Shah banned the wearing of the veil and threatened arrest to women who defied the law. The law was enacted as an attempt to modernize and westernize Iran.
 On March 7, 1979,  Ayatollah Khomeini reversed the law, making it mandatory that women wear the hijab publicly. Iran had been transformed from a secular to a fundamentalist Islamic state in order to conform more closely to the teachings of the Quran.
Fear and guilt tactics have been employed by mullahs and clerics in order to manipulate the thinking of women in relationship to wearing the veil.  One such Muslim cleric, Taj El-Din Hilaly,  publicly declared, "If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn't roam around it."
Hilaly characterized women without the veil as being like,"uncovered meat," implying that they would be responsible for gang rapes by Muslim men!
In response to this sick implication, I love what the Iranian woman in the Stealthy Freedom movement says: "I cannot accept that my hair would make men sin and lose their faith, unless they have a sick heart, in which case, they need to seek a remedy in their own souls instead of making us keep covered!"

Another example of the ridiculous superstition surrounding the wearing of the veil is the statement of what a clergyman said on Iranian TV, that a woman's bad hijab is the cause of rainstorms and floods.
A brave and courageous woman outraged at the statement, posted a picture of her standing in front of a dried up river bed without her veil, looking up to the sky, begging  for
it to begin raining.
Despite the consequences and the fear and guilt tactics employed by the Iranian Regime, women are standing up fearlessly in their pictures and stories in order to say to the world, "I am a woman, I am more than just a veil!"
One such Iranian woman praised Masih Alinejad in a personal letter on her Stealthy page declaring, "Thank you for creating a page that has given us a chance to be seen by the people of Iran and the people of the rest of the world. I like most of this generation, wish not only for the day when I will have freedom of clothing, but also the day when Iran will be a free country....these chains we bear are never something that we have chosen for ourselves!"

Two years ago, I wrote a very important book called, "The Rose of Nowruz: Dreams of hope and freedom," in which I described a woman freedom fighter in Tehran named Bahareh, who finally broke her silence and stood up against the oppressive government. There is very poignant scene in Chapter two, where Bahareh is waiting for the bus to take her home from university and while she waits patiently she composes a declaration that I think perfectly describes the inner cries and convictions of women in the Stealthy Freedom Movement! 

             "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil.
              I am more than what I wear.
              I am someone. Someone who has the right to speak her mind.
              The right to be heard.
              The right to pursue her dreams.
              The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
              God has given me all of these rights and no man or government
              can take these rights away from me.
               I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Happiness is a crime in Iran."

"It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness..."
                              ...Pharrell Williams....

Thomas Jefferson, the original architect, of the Declaration of Independence, is credited with the "often quoted phrase" that has revolutionized the world's thinking on the subject of "God-given" rights.
Jefferson writes, in the preamble of the famous declaration:

                 ....."We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....."

Jefferson in his eloquent style, clearly outlined that there are certain rights given by God to men that are undeniable. His point is that no matter where one lives, they have certain unalienable rights that must be respected and recognized.
Life is a gift from God. Freedom is a gift from God..and then the famous last statement that is quoted most often...the pursuit of happiness.....

While it is true that happiness is often defined differently from other cultures and other peoples, the point is that happiness as well as life and freedom, is a "God given" right that should be respected by others and not suppressed by tyrannical governments.
Unfortunately, The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't seem to agree with the famous words of Thomas Jefferson.
Recently six youth were arrested in Tehran for making a video glorifying the "God-given right" of expressing happiness. The video was a remake of the "Pharrell William's," chart busting hit single entitled, "Happy."
Williams had challenged the world in a global campaign to upload videos and photographs of every day people engaging in happiness. The youth of Tehran excitedly responded and with the help of a director put together a dazzling video showing them dancing on the rooftops of Tehran. The video was an immediate hit all over the world, scoring more than 100,000 hits. But there was one small problem..The Iranian Police were not so excited about the project. It is against Islamic law for women to appear in public without their hijabs and equally against the law for them to be dancing with males.
Within hours of the video being posted, the police descended on the "happiness project," and arrested the six participants. They raided the home, bashing and destroying everything, confiscating computers and hauled them off to the Vozara police station. On the second day they were transferred to solitary confinement and interrogated. The female participants were humiliated and forced to strip naked performing squats before female officers.
In the end, the youth were paraded before live state run television and forced to give a public apology for making the video. Each of the participants were fined for their actions and required to pay 40 millions Tomans ($10,000) bail.

It is beyond comprehension to me that these young, brave Iranian youth have had to suffer so much for simply showing the world, (in their own words)  "We still have moments of happiness even though we face so many problems in Iran..."
One of the participants, Siavash Tavarti, is quoted as saying, "They were only showing their happiness and they were arrested for that!"

Make no mistake, The "God-given" right of happiness, is considered a crime in Iran. A great example of this is demonstrated during the "day of Ashura." The day of Ashura is a very special event in Iran commemorating
 the martyrdom of Husayn Ali, considered by Shia Muslims, the legitimate successor of the prophet Muhammad. It is during this time that Iranians are supposed to engage in public mourning for Ali who was killed in the battle of Karbala for defending Islam against corruption from other nations. Many of the participants during this time of public mourning, bring with themselves chains and engage in a type of "self flagellation" showing their sorrow for what happened to Ali.
My point is, the climate of Iran, the culture of Iran, is a culture of sorrow and mourning based on the history and teachings of Islam. Many of my Iranian friends have privately shared with me their utter dismay for how the government expects them to always be sorrowful and be in a state of mourning for the Imams. When considering this background, one can now understand why making a video about happiness is really frowned upon by the Islamic Republic. It is more than just the fact that the participants weren't wearing their hijabs or dancing with the opposite goes beyond just that....Happiness is a crime in Iran...And the youth were desperately trying to make a statement to the let their voices be heard...They were literally shouting from the rooftops that, "We know how to be happy just like everyone else in the world!!"

Let me say emphatically..Let me shout this from the rooftops!!!  God has created you and me to express to the world that He is a God of great joy, of great creativity, of great freedom, of great love!! God is not a depressed, mean, angry Orge, who spends all of his time in mourning, rather God is a being of great Truth, joy, happiness, love..etc!!

I salute these brave and courageous Iranian youth for showing the world that they too can be happy regardless of their circumstances. They have taught you and me a great lesson that we need to learn. Happiness is a gift from God...He has given each one of us the right to pursue our own happiness.
The young people of Iran need our constant prayers every day. Despite living in a society where individual freedoms are not respected, they have chosen to "break the law" and make a statement to us in the west.
We really have no right to complain. We should be the ultimate examples of happiness because where we live there is true freedom!
Let's all celebrate freedom and happiness while we can. Please type the hash tag  #FreeHappyIranians on Twitter and support these courageous youth today!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Reyhaneh Jabbari: The crime of self defense!"

"I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by you....
 Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?"
       (Hadith 6, number 301)

During the 2012 presidential election, liberals accused conservatives of suppressing the rights of women. The common phrase that was used to describe their "discrimination" was the hot button term entitled, "the war on women."
I believe there is a "real war on women," that has nothing to do with the continuous political debate being waged between conservatives and liberals!
The real war on women transcends the political arena here in America! The real war is being waged every second of every day against women in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the middle east. This war has many scars, many casualties, many innocent victims..a deliberate hatred and discrimination against women!
 Recently I came across an article on the internet, (where else? lol) was a blatant statement made by an unidentified Saudi Professor ( who didn't have the balls to mention his name...) The Saudi Professor said,

"If a woman gets raped walking in public alone, then she, herself is at fault. She is only seducing men by her presence. She should have stayed home like a Muslim woman..."

Women all over the world should 
be outraged by this sexist and discriminatory statement! (As of yet I still don't hear any liberal women rising up to defend these women's rights in the middle east..) 
 Adding insult to injury, this man is a professor, a teaching professor at a university in Saudi Arabia!

In the Islamic world, women are treated like possessions, like property, and are considered little more than second class citizens. They are not allowed to travel alone and must obtain special permission from their husbands if they want to leave the country.
When you understand the male mindset against women in the middle east, then you can understand why a young 26 year-old girl is on death row in Iran.
Her name is Reyhaneh Jabbari. Her crime is self defense.
In 2007, Moreteza Abdolai Sarbandi, (identified as a former intelligence agent in Iran) contacted Reyhaneh and asked her to do some work in re-designing his office. According to Reyhaneh's testimony, she was driven to his apartment. Once inside the apartment, Sarbandi began to attack her and Reyhaneh did what any normal woman would do who is being sexually assaulted. She defended herself! In the struggle, Reyhaneh found a kitchen knife and stabbed Sarbandi. Later he died of his injuries.

The trial of Reyhaneh has been a travesty of justice, a perversion of the true judicial process! She was convicted of murder, coerced under pressure to confess and sentenced to hang! 
 Subsequent evidence of drinks laced with drugs demonstrated that Sarbandi had the whole scenario planned from start to finish and yet this vital evidence was suppressed along with many other facts in the case that would have easily exonerated Reyhaneh in any other criminal court!
 The simple question to be asked is, "Why wasn't Reyhaneh's testimony of the events accepted by the Iranian court?"

I think the answer lies in the view of women, according to teachings of Islam in Iran and all across the middle east.
In the Hadith, (The teachings and sayings of the prophet Mohammed not contained in the Quran) there is an interesting story:

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
                                    (Volume 1, book 6, number 301)

In another Hadith, The Prophet Mohmmaed was given the news that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their queen, to which he replied,  "Never will succeed such a nation that makes a woman their ruler..."
                       (Volume 9, book 88, number 21)

When considering the weight of this evidence, it is easy now to understand why Reyhaneh's version of the crime was not accepted! She is a woman..her evidence is less than half that of a man's..she is deficient in intelligence and in her religion.
I know exactly what I speak of. Everyday I talk with my dear Iranian friends and they share with me story after story of the oppression and discrimination of women in Iran.
 Reyhaneh faces execution in Iran for the crime of self-defense! You ask any woman who has been raped and they will tell you in tears of how the scars and humiliation of this disgusting crime has traumatized their lives forever!
Reyhaneh has spent the last six years of her life behind bars for doing what any normal woman does when sexually assaulted.
 It is time for women, regardless of their political orientation or religion, to stand up and be a voice for the oppressed women in the middle east. This is where the real war on women is being waged!
 Please join me and be their voice!

"Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves:
 Ensure justice for those being crushed.
 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice!"
                           (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"I am more than just a veil."

"I am a woman.
 I am more than just a veil,
I am more than what I wear,
I am someone."
                   (The Rose of Nowruz)

Two years ago, I had the privilege of writing a very special book on the rights of women for my Iranian friends, entitled,  "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom."
My dear friend ( her name withheld for security reasons) who lives in Tehran shared her powerful stories with me that became the basis of the storyline for my book. Since it's publication, The Rose of Nowruz, has been read by major human rights groups in both Iran and Canada, including my dear friends who live in the heart of The Islamic Republic.
Just recently I asked my Iranian friend to write a short, personal reflection on the treatment of women in Iran. She happily agreed.
I want you to hear, word-for-word, her feelings and convictions. My Iranian friend is an English teacher and has an amazing gift of describing from her heart, the way of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The following short paragraph is her latest story, reflecting on the treatment of women in Iran.

"Security. The word sounds familiar to many people around the world, but for me..that's not tangible. I would love to feel it one day if I get the chance and I hope no woman in the world feels the insecurity I'm coping with here.....
Everywhere else women are praised for their beauty, all the sacrifices they do for the family and for bringing life into this world, but here, when it comes to women..there are no rights, no values...women are THINGS which must be used!
The worst thing about this inequality is that you have to feel it every day from the bottom of your heart...
The simplest example that I can mention is standing at the street corner waiting for a taxi..
Just because of standing there, every cab driver or motorcyclist feels free to honk the horn, stop next to you, and begin flirting with you, saying nasty things to you....
It is reminder that every day you are being treated like an object created to make life full of pleasure for men.
It really doesn't matter whether or not you are single or married, well dressed or not, having a complete hijab or not, what I'm describing happens to every Iranian woman every single day!
It is very devastating to experience being watched and harassed from the moment that you leave home until the time that you arrive at your destination.
They feel free to whisper whatever dirty and nasty things that they wish. They feel free to comment on your face and body, and even the minute things that you never noticed in the mirror.
Narrating and elaborating this issue really makes me sick of being a woman here.
I bet you could never tolerate a single day here!

While it's true that in my culture, flirting and harassment of women is also a problem, In Iran, it is a way of life resulting from the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith. Some of my Muslim friends insist that the Quran is a book that highly praises the equality of women, but when carefully read, it contains statements that seem to teach quite the opposite.
For example, Surah 2:223 declares,  " Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like.."
Reflecting back on my friend's description of the harassment and flirting of men, it is now understandable why she is treated this way in every day life. This verse from the Quran essentially is giving permission for a man to treat his wife in a lude, sexual and vulgar way.
Another example, Surah 4:11 states: "The share of a male shall be twice that of a female..."
The Quran is very clearly teaching that when it comes to the issue of inheritance rights, the man is preferred to over that of a woman.
One more example: The Hadith, (a collection of the sayings and deeds of the prophet)
 Volume 1, book 6, number 301,
 The prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half that of a man?"
 The women said, "Yes."
He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."

You can now clearly feel and understand why my dear Iranian friend suffers from this type of abuse and harassment everyday. Her culture has been taught that men are superior to women and they are permitted to treat them as mere sexual objects! Instead of treating women with dignity, honor and respect, men engage in perverse behavior and treat them as mere possessions for their entertainment.
This is the cultural mindset that my dear friend has to cope with everyday.
In contrast to the Quran, The Bible portrays women with dignity and respect as image bearers of God. Women were treated with compassion and kindness by Jesus during his earthly ministry. In the Jewish culture, women suffered from much of the same treatment and Jesus came on the scene treating women with the worth and dignity that they deserved!
Proverbs 31:10 is a perfect example of showing high praise to the value and worth of women. The writer, King Lemuel asks the question, "An excellent wife, who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels!
Verse 25, "She is clothed with strength and dignity..." (verse 26) "when she speaks her words are wise and she gives instruction with kindness."

What a contrast to the portrait of women painted by the Quran and the Hadith!

Life is hard for women in Iran. They are daily scrutinized by the morality police making sure they are wearing their hijab properly and if not they can be arrested and fined. In my book, I describe this in much more detail.
My heart goes out to my dear Iranian friend. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. In chapter two of my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," My character Bahareh is sitting alone at the bus stop reflecting on how her culture treats women and suddenly she begins to write down her thoughts and feelings:

 "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil. I am more than what I wear. 
   I am someone.
  Someone who has the right to speak her mind. The right to be heard. The right to pursue her dreams. The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
 I have the right to live as I choose. The right to pursue my dreams and the right to be happy.
 God has given me all of these rights and no man or government can take these rights away from me.
 I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!